NASA divides the direction of manned spaceflight into two new branches

NASA is reorganizing its manned space flight office, a move the agency believes will help in its push to put boots on the Moon and Mars.

The space agency announced today (September 21) that it is dividing the current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) into two new entities: the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and the Mission Directorate of Space Operations (SOMD).

“This reorganization positions NASA and the United States for success as we delve deeper into the cosmos than ever before, while supporting the continued commercialization of space and research on the International Space Station,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “This will also allow the United States to maintain its leadership in space for decades to come.”

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ESDMD will be responsible for developing critical systems and technology for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to get astronauts to the moon in the coming years and establish a sustainable human presence in and around Earth’s closest neighbor for the purposes of the 2020s.

ESDMD will also chart NASA’s broader “Moon to Mars” exploration strategy, of which Artemis is an integral part, agency officials said. (NASA aims to bring humans to Mars in the 2030s, drawing on skills and techniques learned during Artemis’s lunar effort.)

Meanwhile, SOMD will be in charge of ongoing manned launches and manned space operations, including activities on the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit commercialization, a NASA priority in the coming years. SOMD will also be responsible for crewed operations on and around the moon once they are operational.

“The creation of two separate mission directorates will ensure that these critical areas have focused oversight teams to support and execute for mission success,” NASA officials wrote in the same statement. “This approach with two areas focused on manned spaceflight allows one mission direction to operate in space while the other builds future space systems, so there is a constant cycle of development and operations to advance NASA’s goals in space exploration “.

Kathy Lueders, the current director of HEOMD, will lead SOMD. ESDMD will be led by Jim Free, who has held various leadership positions at NASA over the years. From 2013 to 2016, for example, he was director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio. And from 2016 to 2017, he served as Deputy Associate Administrator of Techniques at HEOMD.

NASA will implement the restructuring over the next several months. The changes will not alter any missions or the functions performed by the agency’s research centers, NASA officials said.

The HEOMD split is a return to the way things used to be at NASA. In 2011, the agency created HEOMD combining the Exploration Systems and Space Operations mission directions.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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